Tenfold hike in indecency fines OK'd by Congress
By Brooks BoliekWASHINGTON --
Congress gave overwhelming approval Wednesday to legislation that will make broadcasters pay exponentially more for airing racy material the FCC considers indecent.
In a 379-35 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives sent the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act to President Bush for his signature. The legislation raises the maximum indecency fine the commission can levy from $32,500 to $325,000 per incident.
Bush said he looked forward to signing the legislation into law."I believe that government has a responsibility to help strengthen families," he said in a statement.
"This legislation will make television and radio more family-friendly by allowing the FCC to impose stiffer fines on broadcasters who air obscene or indecent programming."
While the legislation faced little opposition in Congress, there were lawmakers who expressed concern that the bill goes too far."
What is at stake here is freedom of speech and whether it will be nibbled to death by election-minded politicians and self-righteous Pietists," Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., said.
He recalled how after the Super Bowl halftime incident, numerous ABC affiliates refused to air the acclaimed war movie "Saving Private Ryan" because of its rough language.
But House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said broadcasters have gone too far."
It is time that we reclaim America's airwaves for decency, and this bill is a firm message that we have had enough," he said.
The debate over broadcast indecency has heated and cooled over the years, but Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" that bared her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show caused lawmakers to vow to do something about it. The commission recently denied a petition of reconsideration from CBS Corp.-owned stations facing $550,000 in fines over the incident.
Even without the legislation, the commission has stepped up enforcement, with total fines jumping from $440,000 in 2003 to almost $8 million in 2004.The agency recently handed down its biggest fine against CBS and its affiliates for an episode of the series "Without a Trace." If all the fines were paid, it would cost the network $3.6 million.
The National Association of Broadcasters said it would prefer to see the nation's 13,000 radio stations and 1,700 TV stations police themselves. "The NAB position is that we think responsible self-regulation is preferable to government regulation in areas of program content," spokesman Dennis Wharton said.But Parents Television Council, an aggressive critic of indecency on the public airwaves, praised Congress for listening to Americans "fed up with the sexually raunchy and gratuitously violent content that's broadcast over the public airwaves, particularly during hours when millions of children are in the viewing audience."
The PTC has been the most active organization demanding action at the FCC, as its supporters have filed the vast majority of indecency complaints at the agency.Since the 2004 Super Bowl incident, many broadcasters voluntarily have policed their broadcasts through means like five-second delays on live broadcasts.
As defined by the FCC and the courts, material is indecent if it "in context depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."
While obscene speech has no constitutional protection, indecent speech does. It can be aired from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. -- when few children are in the audience.FCC chairman Kevin Martin welcomed the new authority."Today's vote demonstrates that Congress shares their concern and has a clear desire for a more meaningful enforcement of our decency standard," he said. "The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act gives the commission more tools to enable parents to watch television and listen to radio as a family."
Martin also used the vote to pitch his plan to force cable operators to offer programming on an a la carte basis. Cable and satellite programming are exempted from the indecency statutes.Martin contends that giving parents the power to receive a pay-only for channels they want will give them the ability to keep undesirable programming out of their homes."
I believe that concerns regarding content should be addressed in a comprehensive fashion by empowering parents to choose the programming that comes into their homes," he said.While Martin's view has its detractors, it got a boost from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Wednesday.
McCain introduced legislation that would give multichannel video providers a series of incentives that would lower their costs if they provide a la carte program choices.
Currently, many cable and satellite services offer a "family-friendly" tier and allow customers to block programming, though the cost of the blocked channels are not deducted from cable bills. New TVs also include the V-chip program-blocking technology.
Martin said he supports McCain's legislation, though approval of the bill is unlikely with the short time remaining in this Congress.
This is disgusting and so depressing! It's wrong on every level. The definition of inapropriate and obscene is not clearly spelled out - obviously - why? It's subjective. You idiot-assholic-morons who voted for bush are KILLING freedom of speech. Shame on you!
You have a remote control! Use it. How dare the government decide what is appropriate for me to watch on television. Fuckin zealot christian sickos learn to click!